I shot 76-74 to miss the cut at the ’92 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, flew to Westchester, N.Y., and spent all night writing down what I had to do better in this U.S. Open thing, hitting fairways, the mental side — you can’t have shots that you’re afraid to hit. I was trying to paint a picture of what kind of golfer I needed to become.
I played well the week after Pebble, and over the next year I had 12 top-10s and won Phoenix. I thought, Even if I miss the cut [in the ’93 Open at Baltusrol] it doesn’t change the fact that I played really well the last year. I hit it down the first fairway, hit it on the green and made a birdie.
You have to be willing to take your medicine, really. There are some shots out here [week to week on Tour] where you can try and be aggressive, and if you miss the green you still make your par. But in the U.S. Open it can be a double or more easily.
I learned from Gil Morgan in ’92. He got so far ahead and made a couple bogeys and it looked like he lost his edge. He never played the same the rest of the time. You can’t let your guard down in a U.S. Open.
You call it offensively or defensively; the object is to hit the best putt you can. Speed is absolutely the most important thing.
At Baltusrol I was around the lead the whole time, but at Olympic [in 1998] I had two 73s, so I was up-and-down, thought I was out of it, then I was back in it. Last day, fifth hole, making par when it looked like I might make double, everything changed. I thought it could be my day. I hit every green and fairway the rest of the way.
I didn’t look at the scoreboards but I knew I had to be close from the way the crowd was reacting and the way the course was playing. I couldn’t wait to putt out on 18. In ’93 I was playing with Payne. Everyone else was pretty far back and I didn’t hear anything going on, so it was really between us.
I had a peaceful confidence. I have to show up and just be content that my game’s going to be okay, because it’s so easy to wear yourself out trying to take your game from wherever it is to the A-game. You see a lot of guys work so hard when they get there. They’ve played all year and they think they’re going to make some transformation overnight.
It’s definitely a grind.